EFF Sues NSA and High Ranking Government Officials Over Warrantless Wiretapping

The list of defendants is long and includes several big names in politics including president Bush, Alberto Gonzales and the NSA for their roles in implementing warrantless wiretapping.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The National Security Agency, Keith B. Alexander, Michel V. Hayden, George W. Bush, Richard B. Cheney, David S. Addington, the Department of Justice (DOJ), Michael B. Mukasey, Alberto R. Gonzales, John D. Ashcroft, John M. McConnell, John D. Negroponte and does #1-100. These were the names listed in a lawsuit (PDF) filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other plaintiff in the Jewel v. NSA case. It’s a bid to stop the warrantless wiretapping which was passed into law almost four months ago under the “Protect America Act”

When it was passed into law, civil rights immediately condemned the actions and said that they would sue. Making good on their word, they did. From the EFF announcement:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government agencies today on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal, unconstitutional, and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records. The five individual plaintiffs are also suing President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington, former Attorney General and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and other individuals who ordered or participated in the warrantless domestic surveillance.

The lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, is aimed at ending the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and holding accountable the government officials who illegally authorized it. Evidence in the case includes undisputed documents provided by former AT&T telecommunications technician Mark Klein showing AT&T has routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA.

“In addition to suing AT&T, we’ve now opened a second front in the battle to stop the NSA’s illegal surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and hold personally responsible those who authorized or participated in the spying program,” said Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. “For years, the NSA has been engaged in a massive and massively illegal fishing expedition through AT&T’s domestic networks and databases of customer records. Our goal in this new case against the government, as in our case against AT&T, is to dismantle this dragnet surveillance program as soon as possible.”

“Demanding personal accountability from President Bush, Vice President Cheney and others responsible for the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of ordinary Americans’ communications is the best way to guarantee that such blatantly illegal spying will not be authorized in the future,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. “Our lawsuit today should sound a clear warning to future occupants of the White House: if you break the law and violate Americans’ privacy, there will be consequences.”

The legal proceedings comes on the heals of a lawsuit against the government (namely the USTR) over keeping the infamous Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement secret in spite of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed back in June.

It’s been quite a day in the legal realm. On the same day, the RIAA sued Ray Beckerman over his blog postings.

There is excitement over this particular lawsuit though, this was made clear in a reaction over on BoingBoing. “YEEEEEE-HAW! Ride ’em cowboys! I could not be prouder of EFF at this moment — I’m bursting with joy. I made a five-figure donation to EFF this year,” wrote Cory Doctorow, “and they’ve just earned every penny. If you want to see them take this administration to the mat, kick in a buck or two yourself.”

The warrantless wiretapping case has been an extremely controversial thing in the United States. Countless editorials have been written condemning the passage of the “Protect America Act”. Thousands of others have made their views known from when the AT&T case made it’s way into the courts all the way to the passage of the warrantless wiretapping provisions. Proponents of the legislation argue that by not requiring a warrant to wiretap anyone, it would provide the intelligence community with the necessary tools to fight terrorism.

If this lawsuit fails in the courts, it doesn’t immediately appear there would be very many options left to stop this kind of legislation. It seems that, in spite of previously attempted lawsuits (as noted by Ryan Singel of Threat Level), the EFF seems very confident that they will succeed. It will be very interesting to see this case carry though with, what appears to be, the final leg.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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